The Oldest City in America
St. Augustine is one city that I was told I had to visit ever since I moved to Florida. Now that I’ve been, I’m one of those people telling others to go! St. Augustine was built by the Spanish and is the oldest city in the U.S.; it was also the capital of Florida for 200 years. I decided to stop in St. Augustine for one day on my trip, but I wish I had planned for two days. The town is on the east coast of Florida and since I was driving up from Orlando, I made a checklist of my St. Augustine bucket list to hit in order on my way up. St. Augustine has so much history to offer and the trip was a nice change from the theme parks.
The Rocks at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
My first stop was The Rocks at Washington Oaks Gardens State park, which are rock formations made of coquina. It was overcast that day, but it was still beautiful! I had never seen rock formations on the beach before, so this was a real treat for me. The beach is on the opposite side of the road from the park. There is a box on the road to collect the entrance fee (check the website for the amount since the fee fluctuates) and get a pass. The pass is valid all day and is for both entrances of the park.
After the beach I drove across the road to the Oak Gardens park area. Since I was short on time I didn’t hike through the entire park. I mainly walked around the rose gardens and saw the enormous Washington Oak, which is thought to be between 200 – 300 years old. There were a few other people walking around, but it wasn’t busy that morning. The park is open from 8:00 to sunset.
Fort Matanzas National Monument
After the Oak Gardens State Park I headed to the Fort Matanzas National Monument. You have to take a ferry over to the fort. I had neglected to look at the ferry times, but I got lucky and made it on as soon as I arrived or else I would have had to wait an hour to catch the next one. There isn’t a cost to go to the fort, but you do need a ticket, which you can get inside. I went a little before lunch time and the ferry was almost full. When we docked after visiting the fort there was already a line for the ferry, so plan accordingly. The guides talk to you about the fort on the short ferry there and will answer questions.
Our group saw dolphins on the ferry ride over to the fort! The fort was built by the Spanish in 1740 and became a National Monument in 1924. We explored the fort for about 30 minutes. There were canons, a sentry box, and layouts re-creating the sleeping quarters, kitchen, lookout, and powder room. I even got adventurous and climbed to the top, the view was absolutely breathtaking! This fort is smaller and not as close to the historic area of St. Augustine, so a lot of people go to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument instead, but I honestly liked Fort Matanzas better, so don’t pass it up! Fort Matanzas is open from 9:00 – 5:30, be sure to check out their website for more information.
Lion’s Gate Bridge
My next stop was to see the Lion’s Gate Bridge. The bridge itself is striking and gives a magnificent view of the boats and Castillo de San Marcos. Once you get to the middle of the bridge you can see the city and it’s an incredible sight! There are sidewalks on both sides of the bridge, so once you park you can walk across and take in more of these amazing views.
The next place on my list was the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. I tried to park there, but there were no parking spots. Instead, I parked at the St. Augustine Visitors Information Center, which was a good place since it was in the middle of everywhere I wanted to go and it was easy to remember. I decided to make a quick trip to see the Lightner Museum first. Several trolleys went by on my way there and I thought that would be a great way to see the city. The old buildings are really spectacular; St. Augustine is such a beautiful place
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
After the detour to the museum I went to the Castillo de San Marcos to explore. Castillo de San Marcos was breathtaking! It’s over 300 years old. There was a fee to get in, but the ticket is good for a week. On the first level you can go inside all of the rooms (the powder room is supposedly haunted) and there’s one room with a short video you can sit and watch.
Upstairs you get to see the great views and go inside the sentry boxes, which was my favorite part. They also shoot cannons from outside the fort several times a day (check their website). The fort was fairly busy when I went. After I toured the inside, I walked around the outside of the monument and was amazed at how well built it is.
I left Castillo de San Marcos to grab lunch on the tourist street: St. George Street. Normally I’m wary of restaurants in tourist sections, but when I was researching St. Augustine everyone really praised the food on St. George Street. Even though I ate after the main lunch hours, St. George Street and all the restaurants were really busy. I passed through the Old City Gates, which were simple but beautiful, I really loved the history in St. Augustine.
I walked around for a while after I ate and I kept seeing trolleys, so I decided to look into them. There are two trolleys: the Old Town Trolley Tour and the Red Train Tour. One of the ‘pay’ stations for the Old Town Trolley Tour was across from where I had parked, so I chose that trolley. When I got there I asked the guy whether I should do a trolley ride or go see the next places on my to-do list: Nombre de Dios Mission and the Fountain of Youth. Of course, he convinced me I should take a trolley ride. However, he did not tell me that both Nombre de Dios Mission and the Fountain of Youth were stops on the trip, so this was a pleasant surprise.
The trolley was great, it was a nice relaxing and informing way to see the city. I hadn’t researched the trolleys before, so I wasn’t sure where all they went, but there are over 20 stops on the tour and the conductors tell you everything about all of the sights on the way. The trolley ride purchases are good for 2 days, so you can explore everything if you have time. There are also haunted trolley tours that run at night (if you’re into ghosts, St. Augustine has your back).
Nombre de Dios Mission
The first place I got off of was Nombre de Dios Mission. There was no entry fee, but there is a donation box. It wasn’t very busy when I was there. The space was a lot bigger than I had anticipated from images online. There’s a huge cross that’s 204 feet high, a graveyard, saint monuments, and a beautiful chapel. I had to wait about 10 minutes to get back on the trolley. The trolley went around the town and drove up a gorgeous street where the trees create a roof over the road.
Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
The Fountain of Youth park was a nice surprise. This park does have an entry fee, but once again I was surprised at how big the place was! I went mainly to drink the water, but ended up staying and walking around to see and feed the peacocks. This was another popular place, so a lot of people were there. There was an observation and there were multiple shows, but since it was close to the park and trolley closing time I decided to return to the trolley and finish the ride. Since it was so busy at the Fountain of Youth I didn’t make the first trolley, but thankfully I got a spot on the second to last one.
I hopped back on the trolley and rode it around back to my original starting point. St. Augustine is absolutely amazing! As we passed each stop I wished I had the time to visit everything. We went past the winery and the couple in front of me said it was a great tour and that they give out free samples of wine. The trolley also passed the ice box shop, chocolatier, the Lightner Museum, and Flagler College. Flagler College used to be a hotel and the public can visit on certain days of the week (this is at the top of my to-do list next time).
Flagler College, the Lightner Museum, and the Catholic Church were my favorite buildings. The trolley also went down the oldest road in America and passed by the oldest house. The tour I was on didn’t go across the Lion’s Gate Bridge to the lighthouse, but there is one that makes this trip. Overall, the trolley ride was amazing, and again, the conductors are very interesting. I learned a lot and definitely recommend doing this!
Other Information on St. Augustine
After I got back to my original stop I had to hit the road. There was so much I didn’t get to do that day and I want to go back! A friend of mine told me the Pirate Museum and Old Jail were good places to go to. There is also a pirate ship on the bay that does tours. Overall I was very happy with my first trip to St. Augustine. If you plan on going, be sure to check out the trams (and all of their stops – posted on the websites) and plan accordingly. St. Augustine is very touristy and family friendly. Be sure to put this city on your bucket list!
Update on 11/11/2016:
I made a second trip back to St. Augustine! I made sure that on this trip I went on a tour of Flagler College. Read about this must do experience here
Update on 7/13/2017:
I’m excited to announce that this blog post has been added as an app for GPSmyCity! Click here to download my article app! You will be able to download this article and read it offline. You can also upgrade for GPS navigation. Enjoy!